Weekly Wonk: The winding path of SB 658 | It takes all of us to keep Oklahoma safe | Turning words into action

 What’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk shares our most recent publications and other resources to help you stay informed about Oklahoma. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The Know. Click here to subscribe to In The Know.

This Week from OK Policy

The winding path of SB 658 (Capitol Update): It appears from a brief search of various public school websites that classes will begin anywhere from one to three weeks from now. With the spiking COVID cases and hospitalizations, I can only imagine the anxiety of school board members and school administrators about how to make school safe. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Policy Matters: It takes all of us to keep Oklahoma safe: Each one of us has someone in our lives who needs extra protection from the COVID-19 virus. It could be a beloved grandparent. It could be a child not yet old enough for vaccination. It could even be someone you know who is quietly dealing with issues you aren’t aware of. Regardless of the reason, many Oklahomans may need just a little extra help in staying safe during this latest wave of the COVID-19 virus. [Ahniwake Rose / Journal Record]

We’re Hiring

Join the team as a Regional Organizer for Together Oklahoma: OK Policy is currently hiring for three regional organizers in Northeast, Southwest, and Central Oklahoma. Under the leadership of OK Policy’s Legislative & Outreach Director, the Regional Organizer provides structured leadership in the development and implementation of community-based advocacy actions that further policy goals identified by OK Policy, and works closely with Together Oklahoma (TOK) chapters, which are composed of volunteers that form OK Policy’s grassroots advocacy arm. Applications for these positions close on August 16, 2021 at 5:00 PM (CST). Click here to learn more and apply.

Weekly What’s That

Gross Receipts

Gross receipts are the total amount of receipts collected by state government, as reported monthly by the State Treasurer.

Gross receipts totals are larger than both state appropriations and the state General Revenue Fund, for several reasons. First, gross receipts includes sales and use taxes levied by cities and counties but collected by the Oklahoma Tax Commission. These collections are distributed to cities and counties the month after they are collected. Second, much of the state receipts are “earmarked,” or restricted by law to a specific purpose and not subject to the annual budget process. Examples include taxes that are earmarked for transportation, schools, and retirement funds. State receipts that are not earmarked are deposited in the General Revenue Fund.

Look up more key terms to understand Oklahoma politics and government here.

Quote of the Week

“When it comes down to it, our students’ health should not be a political issue.”

-Katherine Bishop, president of the Oklahoma Education Association [CNHI via McAlester News-Capital]

Editorial of the Week

Turning words into actions

Dr. John Wedlake was fired up during (Monday) night’s City Council meeting. Good for him. The Stillwater City Council unanimously passed a resolution that “strongly encourages” masks and vaccines. It was not a mandate. There was no emergency declaration. No ordinances were created or passed concerning rising COVID-19 in Oklahoma and the effect it is having on our medical staff. 

Like Extreme’s Gary Cherone and Nuno Bettencourt before him, Wedlake wanted more than words. He wanted action.

Mayor Will Joyce wondered if a mask mandate now would do any good. The CDC’s latest recommendations are for people to be masked up, even those fully vaccinated, when they are sharing space, especially indoors. New state law prevents school boards, of even higher education, from creating mask mandates or COVID-19 vaccination requirements. 

Joyce said he wasn’t quite sure what good it would do when “half the population” in two weeks will spend most of their time in school where these mandates are not permitted. Maybe it wouldn’t make a huge dent, but shouldn’t every bit count? Everyone pulling on the same rope? Why not have an every-tool-in-the-tool belt approach right now?

When we tried “strong recommendations” last year, businesses wouldn’t put the signs up until a mandate was made. The companies said they wanted the teeth of an ordinance to fall back on. Anecdotally, we know that before the mandate, few people wore masks inside places of business, after, when those signs went up, the masks went on. It just worked that way. 

And, you know, there are more places other than in schools and other state-operated areas that vulnerable people would like to go and feel safe. Masks are a mere inconvenience for most of us, but going into an unmasked area can make that place off limits for others. 

We also realize what we really need is for Gov. Kevin Stitt to declare a state of emergency and free up control for hospitals and school districts. 

He hasn’t stated what his thresholds are. His latest message, after returning stateside from abroad, was that he met with Health Commissioner Lance Frye for a briefing on rising COVID cases, and that they “will continue to make the right decisions at the right time based on the data from our state.”

Did the wait-and-see approach work for Louisiana or Arkansas?

Unless somehow things totally reverse in the next few days, we expect Council to have something more actionable on its next agenda. Sometimes, it takes more than words. 

[Stillwater News Press]

Numbers of the Day

  • 17.5% – Percentage of Oklahoma children aged 12-17 who are fully vaccinated, which is a little more than 1 in 6. (As of July 23, 2021) [CDC
  • 50.5% – Percentage of Oklahoma adults (18 and older) who are fully vaccinated. (As of July 23, 2021) [CDC
  • 65% – Percentage of Oklahomans polled who agreed with the statement that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, while 27% disagreed. [Sooner Survey via Tulsa World]
  • 2nd – Oklahoma has the second-highest COVID-19 test positivity rate in the nation — 20.9% — and ranks eighth for new cases per capita, with about 213 cases per 100,000 residents [Tulsa World]
  • 37% – A survey of Georgia schools that reopened for in-person learning in 2020 showed that schools with requirements for teachers and staff to wear masks had 37% fewer COVID-19 cases than schools without a mask requirement. [Journal of the American Medical Association]

What We’re Reading


David Hamby has more than 25 years of experience as an award-winning communicator, including overseeing communication programs for Oklahoma higher education institutions and other organizations. Before joining OK Policy, he was director of public relations for Rogers State University where he managed the school’s external communication programs and served as a member of the president’s leadership team. He served in a similar communications role for five years at the University of Tulsa. He also has worked in communications roles at Oklahoma State University and the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce in Arkansas. He joined OK Policy in October 2019.

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